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Vouchers and School Choice - First Step Towards a Discriminatory Educational System

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School Vouchers:  The First Step Towards a Discriminatory Educational System

On November 9, 1998, Jennifer Marshall, Education Policy Analyst for the Family Research Council, declared in a press statement: "Parental choice in education just got a green light from the Supreme Court." Her statement came as a response to the decision made the same day by the Supreme Court to deny a petition for a writ of certiorari in Jackson v. Benton, a case in Wisconsin which challenges the constitutionality of vouchers in public education. By refusing to take this case, the Supreme Court lets a decision made in the state supreme court stand, in which the court upheld the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program as constitutional. The United States Supreme Court voted almost unanimously to deny cert, indicating either that they agree with the Wisconsin court's decision or that the case is not worthy of their time or consideration, or both. (Neither the lone dissenter, Justice Stephen Breyer, nor the 8-justice majority released any explanations of their actions.) Legally, their choice not to hear the case sends a passive but clear message: vouchers in public schools are valid under the Constitution of the United States. However, questions remain surrounding the particulars of the Wisconsin program, as well as the larger questions over the concept of vouchers in general. One that is raised is: Can the government in good faith sanction the removal of children from the public schools, at its own expense and at the expense of the children who remain in those public schools?

The Court has been strangely inconsistent in its treatment of voucher cases. In 1973, The Court found that vouchers for religious schools violated the establishment clause, but ...

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...The reasons given for extant voucher programs are admirable; what decent-minded society could object to giving disadvantaged students a greater chance? The fundamental problem with voucher programs is that they only treat the symptom, and in the process create a whole new community of disadvantaged children. By refusing to review Jackson v. Benton, the Supreme Court is simply ignoring a question the justices will soon be forced to answer: do voucher programs violate the Constitution on grounds other than the separation of church and state? It is a question they will have to consider thoroughly for its ideological, sociological, and political implications. A vote in favor of voucher programs will give the go-ahead to a construction that could lead to nothing more than an educational model of residential urban sprawl, separating the desirables from the undesirables.

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